Unions Bolster Election Budgets
Voter-Outreach Programs To Use New Technologies To Back
Democrats in '08
By Kris Maher
The Wall Street Journal
Saturday, September 22, 2007
In a bid to help a Democrat reclaim the White House, the labor
movement plans to spend a record amount on next year's election
to boost its already ambitious voter-outreach program, which
will include greater use of email, text messaging and other
The AFL-CIO said it will pump $53.4 million into the 2008
election, up 11% from the $48 million it spent in 2004. It also
said it will mobilize 200,000 volunteers and focus resources in
key battleground states with large numbers of union members --
including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin
-- in an effort to help Democrats win three to six additional
seats in the Senate and five more seats in the House.
GOING ALL OUT
• Beefing Up: AFL-CIO plans to pump $53.4 million to
bolster Democrats in the 2008 election, up 11% from 2004.
• Mobilizing Forces: Using text messages and emails,
the money will go toward getting more members to the polls.
• All or Nothing: The pledge to spend more as many
unions are hit by shrinking memberships is a sign of desperation
mixed with hope, an observer says.
Individual unions also are digging deeper into their coffers.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
said it will spend $60 million in the 2008 election, a 25%
increase from the $48 million it spent in 2004. The Service
Employees International Union said it will spend more than the
$65 million it spent during the previous presidential election,
which was the most spent by any union.
The pledge to spend more at a time when many unions are strapped
for funds from shrinking memberships is a sign of desperation
mixed with hope, said Gary Chaison, a labor expert at Clark
University in Worcester, Mass. "This is the all-or-nothing
election for them. They can't have another four years of not
having the White House," he said. Business interests have
traditionally outspent labor by a 10-to-1 ratio, and he doesn't
expect that to change.
At the same time, unions are still the only organizations that
can mobilize people to work on political campaigns in huge
numbers, say experts. The beefed-up spending would help to
further increase the clout of unions, which were credited with
helping to put some Democrats over the top in the 2006 midterm
congressional elections. Union officials are buoyed by the
strong field of Democratic candidates and believe any would
broadly support labor's legislative agenda on health care,
trade, immigration and union organizing.
The AFL-CIO's funds will be spent entirely to educate and
mobilize union members and on issue advertising. In presidential
elections, the vast majority of spending by individual unions
goes to staff phone banks, knock on union-household doors and
register union members to vote, as well as print mailings and
communicate in other ways with members. Far less is contributed
by unions directly to candidates.
Unions are legally permitted to spend union members' dues on
outreach to members and their families. Advocacy campaigns
related to candidates and aimed at the general public must come
from voluntary contributions from union members, which can be
channeled through political-action committees, or PACs. Union
PACs also are raising funds at a faster clip this election
season, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Individual unions are using new technologies, as well as
enhancing grass-roots efforts, to get more members engaged and
to the polls. The Laborers International Union of North America
will spend $15 million in 2008, nearly double what it spent four
years ago, much of it on new outreach methods. The union will
send text messages to members' cellphones and will tailor
messages to retirees and Hispanic members, among others, via
email and online documents.
By passing on more information and reminders to members, "our
intent is to continue to increase the number of our members that
actually go out to vote," said Terry O'Sullivan, president of
the Laborers union.
Meanwhile, SEIU is training more union members where they live,
rather than sending several thousand organizers to different
states, as it did in 2004. The union expects local members who
are known in the community to be better able to persuade other
members to vote for a candidate. In Iowa, where SEIU has about
4,000 members, it has begun workshops to teach members how to
lead caucuses and canvass union members.
Write to Kris Maher at